Sunday, April 17, 2011

Testing, testing

testing, testing“My language arts MCAS is coming up,” my fifth-grader announced earlier this month. We were having one-on-one time at the bus stop. We got back in the habit of waiting together when the iceberg next to our driveway got so big the driver couldn’t see him (this happened once and the bus passed him by: it was a bit traumatic). As soon as I see the bus’s flashing lights, I head back in.

“Are you worried about it?”

“No, not really.”

“Good, you shouldn’t be. The test really isn’t about you so much…”

“It’ll help me get into a good college, won’t it?”

“No, no one looks at that for a college application. I think you have to do well enough on the MCAS before they let you out of high school, though.”

“Then why do we have to take them?”

“So the school system can prove how good it is to the state – it determines the level of funding…I think.”

“Did I get good scores on the ones from last year?”

“I don’t know. I forget. I’ll dig up the results if you really want. It doesn’t matter that much to me – I care more about the quizzes and tests you bring home and your report card.”

It was true, I didn’t remember, and don’t care. We had talked about it last fall, when he’d asked me for the umpteenth time, “Mom, can I look at my MCAS scores?”

“Think about it for a minute. If you did really well, are you going to be able to keep from talking about it with your friends?” Blank look. “Will you boast about it to your brother?” Small smirk.

“Or, what if you did really poorly, would you think you’re stupid?”


“Do you know that Grandma never told me what my IQ is?”

“What’s an IQ?”

“Well, it’s a number that’s supposed to measure your intelligence.”

“Didn’t you ever want to know?”

“Yeah, sometimes. But it’s just a number, really. Does it matter?”

We just finished reading The Report Card by Andrew Clements in my middle son’s fourth-grade literature circle. Not wanting to be left out, my oldest read it, too. The story is about an off-the-charts smart girl who purposely gets bad grades just to prove a point: that grades don’t necessarily measure your intelligence.

I translated the lesson into my boys’ universal language: “If you make a bad play or lose a baseball game, does it mean you are a failure or a loser? No, it just means you made an error or lost the game. When we make mistakes or get a bad grade, the most important things to do are learn something, move on, and try to do better next time.”

“Do your best,” I said to the fourth graders at the bus stop as they headed off to fight the good fight with their long composition MCAS (and I said the same thing to my fifth-grader the next day). They had been prepared for this moment all year. What more could be asked of them?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

(Crazy) hat day

Ten minutes before the bus was due to arrive, “Mommommom, it’s Crazy Hat Day today! What should I wear?”

“Oh, yeah…isn’t it just Hat Day? It doesn’t have to be a crazy hat, does it? Just wear one of your baseball hats.”

“Okay, uhmmm...well, do you know where my abc hat is?”

“Not offhand, honey, can you wear xyz hat?


"How about 123 hat?"


"Well, what about -- "

"No! It has to be my abc hat!"

Well...God help me...there are a few places we can check,” I smiled through clenched teeth. It was Friday of a hellish week as I was preparing to go out of town for business the following week and all that entails; it was also the end of the quarter and all that entails; and furthermore, just that morning I had been the lucky recipient of blue screen of death (computer) and black screen of death (iPhone) and all that entails (at that moment, I didn't even know what "all that entails" was -- and was imagining the worst). I didn’t think I could handle anything more outside of the scope of “normal.”

6 = number of places in the house searched, while muttering under breath
24 = number of baseball hats discovered
4 = number of hats tried on and discarded
9.75 = minutes to accomplish all this
0 = number of hats worn to school

“Where’s your hat, honey?” I sighed at my son as he came out the door. After handing him his abc hat, I had stomped out to the driveway to wait with the other kids for the bus.

“I don’t really feel like wearing a hat after all.”

“Well! ...breathe in....breathe better hustle your little self out here so you don’t miss the bus – it’s coming down the street right now!”

Friday, April 8, 2011

Don't know what you've got...

...'til it's gone. Two Christmases ago, Santa brought us a flat screen TV. It was a marvelous thing, and seemed to take up an entire wall. Of course, it didn’t, but it’s a small room, so the TV seemed larger than life. The TV we had in the living room at the time (which has similar dimensions as our coffee table and was freecycled to us after someone upgraded) was relegated to the man cave. This really is a cave – our basement is unfinished: you can still see bark on the trees that comprise the ceiling beams, which may very well date back to the 1880s when the house was built. Currently the wii (that Santa brought the next Christmas) is hooked up to the coffee-table TV, as well as an older cable box (no DVR).

It wasn’t long before our marvelous flat-screen TV was “damaged.” The Bigs were throwing Jenga blocks and one hit the TV, leaving a colorful mark behind.

He did it!” one of them accused the other.

“It doesn’t matter who did it. You were both throwing the blocks so I hold you equally responsible.”

Apparently they had been throwing their best pitches, because the TV was scarred – the mark didn’t fade. They had to look at a colored splotch every time they watched. Over time, the scar grew until it was a vertical line on the right side of the TV. Then several vertical lines, then horizontal lines as well, and finally, when the TV became unwatchable, I removed it from the living room. (The Jenga game had long since been removed from our household altogether, though I did continue to unearth pieces from time to time.) The Bigs were probably relieved that it was gone: having no TV in the living room was less embarrassing in front of their friends than having to answer when they asked, “Dude, what’s wrong with your TV?”

Besides the man cave, there’s a TV upstairs in my room (another cast off), again with an older cable box. (I don’t even know how DVR works.) Whenever we had “Family Movie Night,” it was upstairs, since I did not enjoy spending time in the man cave. The problem with that was that I really don’t want kids eating snacks in my room and I was tired of the jockeying for position – which often culminating in pillow fights – that trashed my room as things escalated.

So, after more than two years, I decided it would be a good time to put a TV back in the living room. But not a new TV – I borrowed an old, no-frills 19-inch TV from our neighbor, that has no remote (and won’t work with the cable remote), so you actually have to push a button on the TV to turn it on. Can you imagine? I remember turning a knob, which was also the volume control, to power on a TV. “Yes, we did have TV’s when I was a kid,” I assured my children. “They even had them when Grandma was a kid.” I had gone to the local cable office and picked up a new cable box (with DVR: the matronly customer service agent assured me if I could use a VCR, which I no longer have but do remember how to use, I could figure out the DVR. And I supposed if she could do it, so could I.)

Well, after two years of going without, my boys were thrilled. They did point out that the color was not the same as on our other TVs. “It’s like, black and white, Mom…”

“Boys, this is not at all like black and white.”

“…But that’s okay,” they were quick to assure me, lest they appear ungrateful.

The first night we watched, the four of us sat like sardines on the love seat watching “The Laughing Show” (America’s Funniest Home Videos).

An added bonus is that I had to move the furniture around so the TV could be placed near the cable outlet and now there’s a couch blocking the double-wide doorway through which the kids used to race cars, play soccer, and run before they took a flying leap onto the couch, ramming it into the wall: the configuration of the couches seems to keep everybody blissfully contained in that particular area.

Thus it came to pass that my children would be grateful for a little old box TV in our living room. (I told The Bigs it’s their job to figure out the DVR.)

But no one will see it

I set up the nativity in the back yard again this year. In the past it has been out front near the fire hydrant that is on our property, and...